Desmond Doss was a man of immeasurable courage and scrupulous moral resolve. He was a soldier who put his life in an incredible amount of danger without any weapons, in order to save the lives of his fallen comrades. By using non-violence instead of his fists, he earned honor, valor and respectability. Like many a hero, he was not a man born into an extravagant and privileged life, he came from humble beginnings.
Doss was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on February 7th, 1919, His father was a carpenter and both his parents were deeply religious. He was raised in the tradition of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. As a young boy his father bought him a framed poster of the Ten Commandments with illustrations accompanying each rule. The Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" particularly resonated with him throughout his life. The image of Cain menacingly looming over Able with a club stuck with Desmond and cemented his resolve to never take up arms against a fellow human being.
In 1942 Desmond Doss was working at a shipyard when he was required to enter the draft. He was drafted into the army in April of 1942. Due to his religious convictions, he refused to carry a gun. He had some reserve about being classified as a conscientious objector, as they had the reputation for refusing to salute the flag and staging protests and demonstrations. He wanted to serve his country he just did not want to do so using violence. By being registered as a conscientious objector he was able to become a medic.
Being a pacifist in a military was not an easy task. Doss endured a lot of scrutiny from fellow soldiers. He even had an officer who tried to get him discharged by claiming he was mentally ill. His father helped him turn to officials in Washington, D.C. who reinstated him to his post as a medic. He carried a note from the General of the Army that stated he had the right to practice his religion. Desmond was determined to serve his country.
In 1944 he joined the 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division and they departed to serve in the war in the Pacific. He initially served in Guam and Leyte, Philippines as a combat medic. It was here he earned a Bronze Star.
During the Battle of Okinawa between the dates of April 29th, 1945 through May 21st, 1945, Desmond Doss completed a series of heroic acts which earned him the Medal of Honor. He was serving as a company aid man when the allied forces assaulted the Maeda Escarpment, a 400 feet high ridge. Japanese machine gun fire and mortars rained down on then men. The American forces were driven off the slope. Unfortunately, approximately seventy-five dead or injured soldiers were left atop the cliff. Doss treated and retrieved every single soldier, one at a time. He exposed himself to the line of fire without any weapon to defend himself. Being a medic was especially dangerous when facing up against the Japanese soldiers. They had a tactic of picking off the medics as soon as possible in order to decrease morale. One injured man was 200 feet beyond enemy lines. He lowered each of them down the escarpment by rope anchored to a sturdy tree stump.
Two days later he was he treated four men who had unsuccessfully led an attack on a cave. Doss advanced through grenade fire and treated and evacuated each man individually. On May 21st, there was a night attack where he remained exposed to enemy fire in order to aid his men. A grenade exploded and his legs were badly injured. He did not call for the aid of other but rather treated his own injuries and waited five hours until his the litter bearers reached him. While being carried off he saw a man who was more gravely injured and insisted the other man be tended to first. He left out in the open again and was sniped by a bullet and sustained another injury, this time to his arm. Using a rifle stock as a splint he remedied his arm enough so that he could crawl 300 yards to safety. While in recovery oversees, before returning from the army, he contracted tuberculosis. For these three injuries he earned the Purple Heart three times.
After returning home, it took Corporal Desmond Doss five years to mostly recover from his illnesses and injuries. He lost a lung to tuberculosis. He was left partially disabled and could never hold down a permanent job. In order to keep himself busy who worked with young people in church programs. In 2004 an award winning documentary The Conscientious Objector was released. It detailed his time in service. On March 23rd, 2008, Doss passed away in Piedmont, Alabama after experiencing breathing problems.
Corporal Desmond Doss was an exemplary soldier who stuck to his figurative guns by not carrying any guns. He was able to serve his country well and help his fellow man without compromising himself or his beliefs.
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